Here’s what I remember.
We were in the kitchen of my apartment, making strawberry pancakes. The batter was ready; the grill was hot. All that was left was to slice and add the strawberries.
I was at the sink, washing a measuring cup, and she began dicing the strawberries behind me. When I turned and saw what was happening, I was startled and worriedly shouted, “Wait! Not like that!”
My girlfriend flinched, and became upset.
I don’t remember what happened after that, other than we finished making the pancakes and ate them. But I know she was tense, and I didn’t understand why. I had surprised her, yes, but I wasn’t angry. I hadn’t yelled at her, I just sort of… reacted.
Poorly. I reacted poorly.
Here’s why it’s stupid.
You don’t lay down a game plan for making pancakes, which means we didn’t discuss preparation beforehand. In my mind, you slice strawberries, pour pancakes on the grill, and then place the slices in them. In her mind, you chop up the strawberries and add them directly to the batter. When I saw her doing it “wrong,” I reacted.
(Poorly. I have to remember that I reacted poorly.)
I think back to that morning and wonder: why didn’t I ask, “Can we try it this way?” or just not care? Why did I have such a fixed way of making strawberry pancakes in my head?
Here’s what I know now.
There is a rule of thumb that states it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how you say it. A second school of thought is people won’t remember what you said, or how you said it. They will remember how you made them feel.
Here’s why what I did mattered.
Before me, she was in an abusive relationship.
When I started, my voice was raised. Not in anger, no, but it was raised. And I scared her.
Was it shellshock? PTSD? In that moment, did she believe I was going to hit her, because her previous boyfriend had?
Relationships don’t just end, they wither. Cracks appear, and without attention become chasms. If I were to cite a turning point in our relationship, that morning would be it.
It doesn’t matter what I said.
It matters more how I said it.
It matters most how I made her feel.
It took me fifteen years to realize this.
Being with a victim of domestic abuse can teach you to be a better person, if you are able to learn from your experiences with them. I didn’t grasp the lessons quickly enough to salvage that relationship.
Hopefully I react better to situations these days.